1. Browns withstood Washington's best punch and responded with a knockout
It was a moment that could have ended previous versions of the Browns.
A lackluster start to the third quarter quickly turned Cleveland's 10-point lead into a three-point deficit. Washington scored touchdowns on back-to-back possessions, and the Browns didn't even have a first down until the final minute of the quarter.
Everything was trending in the wrong direction after such a promising start. In the past, it could have been a knockout punch — something even Myles Garrett could acknowledge. As he reflected on Sunday's 34-20 victory, he remembered the Browns' 2018 season opener against Pittsburgh, when the team forced a flurry of turnovers but had to settle for a tie.
"In this one, we just put it all together," Garrett said. "That is real team ball, complementary ball that we played. I am proud of how we all came together. We have to do this every week. We just have to find a way to keep on perfecting our crafts."
All throughout Sunday's game, the defense picked up the offense with turnovers. The Browns forced five of them on this day, setting up the offense with short fields that directly led to 24 of the team's 34 points.
But this part of the "complementary" came from the offense, as it lifted up a gassed defense with its best and longest scoring drive of the game. It was jump-started by a pivotal, 15-yard catch by Odell Beckham Jr. on third-and-long and capped with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Baker Mayfield to Harrison Bryant.
"We really needed the spark," Mayfield said. "And after that, we were playing complementary football."
Bryant's touchdown, the first of his NFL career, was the 11th play of a 75-yard drive that took more than 6 minutes off the clock, giving the Browns a lead they wouldn't relinquish. A rested Browns defense took it from there with two more turnovers, sealing a win that featured multiple instances of the Browns facing a deficit.
"We knew it was a 60-minute fight," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "We talked to the guys about that all week and even today so we were totally ready for that."
2. Is anyone running better than Nick Chubb?
Somehow, Nick Chubb's touchdown runs are getting more impressive.
Chubb's first on Sunday saw the third-year running back dart back and forth as Washington defenders chased him before he powered his way into the end zone. The stat sheet shows it was a 16-yarder, but it doesn't reveal how Chubb covered much more ground and piled up plenty of bruises along the way.
"I am not surprised, if that is possible, at some of the things he does," Stefanski said, "because I know what he is capable of."
Chubb showed off his speed on his second touchdown run, which essentially clinched the game in the fourth quarter by extending the Browns' lead to two possessions. Chubb followed pulling guard Wyatt Teller and outraced Washington's defenders to the edge on the 20-yard score. It was Chubb's 26th run of 20 or more yards since 2018, the most of any NFL player during that stretch.
The yards didn't come as easy Sunday for Chubb and Kareem Hunt as they did the previous week, but the Browns still managed 158 on 37 attempts — good for an average of 4.3 per touch. Chubb cleared 100 yards for the second straight game and 13th time in his career while Hunt added 46 and a receiving touchdown.
The Browns running back duo has combined for 496 yards and seven touchdowns (two receiving) through the first three games.
"It is very fun to be able to go out there and take turns and punish defenses," Hunt said. "It is very fun. I can't wait for next week. We enjoy this win today and start back to work next week."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Washington Football Team
3. Welcome back
Another bright spot Sunday for the Browns' defense: They simply had more bodies at their disposal.
LB Mack Wilson and CB Kevin Johnson made their respective 2020 debuts, and CB M.J. Stewart, who missed a large chunk of the preseason with a hamstring injury, saw his most extensive playing time of the season. Perhaps most important, the Browns didn't need the returning players on an every-snap basis, as they rotated a number of different players in and out for different situations.
"It's important. This is a long season," Stefanski said. "It was great to see some guys that came back off of injury. Hopefully, we will get a few more here as we get going. Whether it is offense or defense, we want to use all the players, especially the guys that provide versatility."
CB Denzel Ward played in the first half but was sidelined for the second with a groin issue that made him questionable for Sunday's game. Stefanski said Ward was "no worse for the wear" playing through the injury. Without Ward, the Browns used Terrance Mitchell and Johnson as their outside cornerbacks with a mix of Tavierre Thomas and Stewart in the slot.
Wilson played sparingly in his first game back from a knee injury as Malcolm Smith remained the starter at WILL and collected his first interception as a Brown. Adrian Clayborn, who suffered a hip injury in last week's win, was available but did not see the field much as well. Porter Gustin and Joe Jackson saw extensive action in his place.
There's room to get healthier on defense, too, as the Browns hope to get back DE Olivier Vernon, LB Jacob Phillips and CB Greedy Williams in the coming weeks.
"We have to keep getting better. We have to keep scrambling for more and keep striving for better," LB B.J. Goodson said. "We had a great game as far as takeaways, but there are always things we can be better at and get better at doing. Yes, we made progress through those first couple of games, but we can get a lot better."